For the first four days this week, Trevor Noah used his Comedy Central TV show in nearly every way a host can to address the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” opened Monday with Noah's somber call for action and debate. He later served as a straight man, setting up comic Neal Brennan to rain satire upon the gun control debate by suggesting that NFL players hoist AR-15s rather than kneel during the next national anthem to speed up the legislative process. He asked a Democratic congressman how stricter registration requirements would stop someone with a clean background, like the Las Vegas killer.
Then, Friday, he came to the Lied Center for Performing Arts. Would Noah's first standup show serve as an opportunity to crystallize his televised contributions to this national conversation via a message delivered upon the stage?
Nope. We got tacos.
But Noah is a big thinker. And these were meaningful, allegorical tacos. Wrapped inside a story of his first visit to the States, and his unfamiliarity with not only this ultimate American food but also our country's use of the word "napkin" — look up what it means to a South African such as Noah — Noah succinctly wove in a defense of immigrants that dated to the times of colonization, and the reason explorers risked sailing off the edges of the earth — bad cooking at home.
"No immigrants, no spice," he said, wringing multiple meanings from just the four words.
Noah, 33, seemed to relish stepping away from his desk after a trying week, laughing and launching into impersonations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump and his chill bro friend Dave, who took him to his first taco truck. These were all fine voices paired with meticulous jokes. His impersonation of trap music, which he compared to an incoherent toddler bawling about his skinned knee, was extraordinary and completely silly.
While he stepped away from the gun debate Friday, Noah did not shy from weighty topics — racism, immigration, Trump, Obamacare — often addressed with cutting, yet often optimistic jokes. And his finale was a masterpiece.
Noah concluded by sharing an all-too American experience for someone who is black or, like him, of mixed race — the first time he was called the n-word. He said the word more than I've heard it in some time, and he knew it.
"Here, it still has power," he said. "I mean, like right now, I can feel some of you saying, 'Oh, my God, was that, like, nine times?'"
But, following his mother's advice, he turned the word on the jackass who bleated it, and turned the meaning around on the audience. In his mother's native Xhosa language, he said, it means "to give." And in recalling how it was used in his childhood home, he tore the word to pieces, if only for one memorable night.